National / Politics

Scandal-hit Japan lawmakers sorry but otherwise tight-lipped as Diet opens

Kyodo

Former Cabinet ministers and lawmakers involved in gift and money scandals apologized again Monday as they returned to the Diet for its ordinary session, but offered no new details despite mounting calls for them to explain themselves.

“I feel deeply sorry for harming public trust in politics,” former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai told reporters as the regular Diet session started. “I should refrain from comment as investigations are underway.”

Kawai and his wife, Upper House lawmaker Anri Kawai, both from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have faced allegations that they were involved in daily allowance payments by her office to campaign staffers for the July Upper House election that exceeded their legal limit.

Prosecutors have already searched their offices, alleging that the country’s public elections law may have been breached.

Anri Kawai told reporters, “I will explain when investigations are done.”

Katsuyuki Kawai’s resignation as justice minister in October came only days after Isshu Sugawara gave up his post as trade minister over separate money and gift-giving allegations.

Sugawara made his first public appearance in about three months Monday after suffering from what he described as sleeping disorders.

Surrounded by about 50 reporters, Sugawara declined to give details, noting that a criminal complaint against him had been filed with Tokyo prosecutors.

“I apologize for my resignation causing a stir and trouble to many people,” Sugawara said.

“If requested by the authorities, I will cooperate sincerely. I’d like to explain the whole story at an appropriate time,” a sweating Sugawara said.

The former trade minister quit after a weekly magazine reported that his secretary had offered ¥20,000 ($182) in condolence money to the bereaved family of a supporter in his Tokyo constituency in mid-October.

The magazine also alleged that Sugawara had given expensive melons and crabs to local supporters.

The public offices election law bans politicians from making donations to voters in their home constituencies. Politicians are allowed to offer money personally at ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged his responsibility for appointing Kawai and Sugawara in a Cabinet reshuffle in September.

As the 150-day Diet session began, opposition parties were preparing to grill Abe over a controversial state-funded cherry blossom-viewing party and a bribery scandal related to the introduction of casinos in Japan.

The administration’s casino push suffered a setback after Tsukasa Akimoto, a former LDP lawmaker who led the effort, was arrested on suspicion of receiving money from a Chinese gambling company that had sought to launch a casino business in Japan.

LDP lawmaker Toshimitsu Funahashi, one of the five lawmakers to whom the Chinese firm reportedly paid money, bowed in apparent apology to the prime minister.

Funahashi, who has denied receiving money from the Chinese company, said to reporters on Monday, “I don’t have anything to say.”

Another lawmaker Mikio Shimoji was expelled from Nippon Ishin no Kai after admitting to receiving ¥1 million from the Chinese company. He only said he is “not going to talk.”

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